“Two reasons that have been real impediments to getting a good system in place: the lack of any sort of uniformity [in equipment] across the country,” says Palfrey. “The other thing that is related to that is the cost.”
American University government professor Rick Semiatin agrees. He says at least statewide “you should have one uniform system. That really mitigates your problems so you’re not dealing with apples and oranges when counting votes from different types of ballots.”
Richie recognizes the ceiling on the market but says it’s a good reason for government to step in.
“It’s sort of a civic duty — using good tech should make our democracy better,” says Richie. “An important role for the [federal] government to play is to put money out there to do this.”
Avoiding Glitches Palfrey and other experts who follow voting trends say newer machines and software can offer a more reliable, accurate method for elections, but there are technology pitfalls that must be addressed first.
Back-ups or redundancies must be built into the systems, say Curry and other experts in the voting technology field, but hardware backups might not be enough. With system crashes, data even in two separate locations can be lost — it may not be probable, but it is possible.
While problems can result from pretty much any one of the multiple voting systems out there today, none typically produces the “very big mistake” of a system crash or loss of data, says Palfrey.
“A lot of what we’re looking at … is to ensure we have redundancy with power, memory, recording of votes built into these systems so if we were to have a problem nothing would be lost,” says Curry, who adds that an audit paper trail is built into most of the environments as well.
Paper receipts for machine transactions are a common experience these days when getting money. And if people can rely on automatic teller machines, which handle hundreds of thousands of dollars a day, says Palfrey, automated voting machines aren’t too far behind.
“When you’re going to go to machines that have the feel of ATMs, [people] will be comfortable with the vote,” says Palfrey.